BEVERLY — The City Council has approved a project that will transform the former Briscoe school into senior affordable apartments and artist studios while also converting the auditorium into a theater where the public will be able to attend shows.
The plan received unanimous support from councilors, who voted in favor of a special permit that will allow the public building to be converted to those uses.
"This is such an exciting project with so many positive aspects for the city," Councilor Scott Houseman said during the meeting Monday night.
The new building will be called Briscoe Village for Living & the Arts. The project will be undertaken by Harborlight Community Partners, a local affordable housing agency, and Beacon Communities, a Boston-based real estate firm.
The organizations have an agreement with the city to buy the building for $600,000. They are planning to spend $40 million to convert the former school, which was built in 1923.
Thad Siemasko, the architect for the project, told councilors the historic building is in "pretty good shape" for its age and will not require a lot of changes in terms of form and structure. The classrooms will be turned into one-bedroom apartments, while the locker rooms will be converted into the artist studios.
When the renovation is done, including new windows, Siemasko said the building "will look nice and bright and clean like it looked 100 years ago when it opened." About 150 trees will be added to the site, he said.
The top priority of the project is to provide affordable apartments for seniors. Andrew DeFranza, executive director of Harborlight Community Partners, said the apartments will be for people age 55 and over at income levels of 30% and 60% of the area median income.
Eight-five of the 91 units will be age-restricted and affordable. The other six are the studios where artists can live and work.
"The greatest news of this whole thing is that the Briscoe school gets to provide 85 senior units long term for the community," DeFranza said. "It's something that we really need. This is a really significant advancement in proving housing for our seniors."
DeFranza said they are still looking for someone to operate the theater, which will have approximately 500 seats. That has become more of a challenge due to the pandemic, he said.
"Theaters are not having an easy time in this environment," he said.
As part of the deal, the city will keep ownership of the soccer field at the back of the building as well as the open space at the front. The intersection of Sohier Road and Colon Street, near the Gloucester Crossing train crossing, will be reconfigured in conjunction with the project, said Rebecca Brown, the traffic consultant for the project.
Brown said there will be 156 parking spaces for residents on the site and 78 spaces for people going to the theater. There is also parking on Colon Street, she said.
DeFranza said a start date for the project depends on financing. The project will be funded by federal and state low-income housing and historic rehabilitation tax credits, as well as about $1 million in local funds, he said.
Councilors said they were pleased that the project meets so many of the city's requirements, from affordable housing to historic renovation of an important building to preservation of open space.
"I've been around a long time and this project fills a lot of needs of the city," Council President Paul Guanci said.
Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2535 or email@example.com.